The simplest machines, the smartest people

I wrote about a lot of students and their work in my years as an education reporter. The kids that stand out, though, are the ones that used their brilliance to find simple solutions to basic problems in developing countries.

I remember Patrick Delaney, a University of Minnesota electrical engineering student, who helped design low-cost, easy-to-use solar powered lanterns that brought light to remote regions of Nicaragua and could be built there.

I was thinking about Delaney and those other students as I read about the GiraDora, a simple, foot-powered clothes washer / dryer created by a couple of design students from Los Angeles that’s making life easier for people in poverty-ridden areas of Peru.

It’s built to meet the needs of people living on $4 to $10 a day and remedy problems tied to hand washing, including back pain and respiratory problems like asthma tied to mold.

“So much time, energy, and resources are used for basic water chores like cooking and cleaning,” one of the students tells the web site Fast Company.

It leaves little time for other activities that might help one get out of poverty.” In particular, washing clothes is a major timesuck–it can eat up as much as six hours a day. There are major physical challenges involved with doing a simple load of laundry, too: lugging heavy buckets of water from a clean site, for example, or finding a way to dry the clothes before they get moldy.

The result is a simple machine that transforms lives.

The designers tell Fast Company the goal is to have 150,000 users over the next five years. Interestingly, their measure of success? When people don’t need their product anymore because they’ve moved up the economic ladder.

Like the U’s Delaney, these guys went to poverty ridden areas of the world, asked the people what they needed, and delivered in a way that will last beyond them. Pretty smart.

  • David


  • Another similar, simple, inexpensive, yet life-changing innovation is BioSand Water Filters.

    The Biosand Water Filter is simply a concrete container, enclosing layers of sand and gravel which trap and eliminate sediments, pathogens

    and other impurities from the water. This filter is inexpensive to construct, costs nothing to operate and is simple to maintain.

    In India, diarrhea alone causes more than 1,600 deaths daily. Lack of pure drinking water is a major cause of waterborne diseases.

    More details here:

  • Patrick Delaney

    Hey Paul, thanks for remembering me! I am still at it – the solar-LED world has changed a lot since those days back in 2006. I am currently operating my own company based here in Minneapolis called ValuLamp which has sold solar-LED lights mostly into “The Americas,” meaning Nicaragua, Haiti, Panama and many satisfied customers here in the USA. I still focus a lot on the service-based model of making solutions that work on a local level. There are companies out there now that have raised millions of dollars in Wall Street money just to get moving, meanwhile I have sold over 10,000 products using good ol’ Minnesota stick-to-it mentality. It must be the cold weather that keeps us tough. Please contact me if you want more updates on the solar-LED world and where it’s going in the coming years. The news and information surrounding that topic has only increased and I write a lot of articles about it pretty often. Best regards.